DEAR DOCTOR K: I had bypass surgery last year, and I’ve been on two different statins. But I had severe muscle and joint pain. Do I really need to be on a statin? The side effects are awful for me.
DEAR READER: Statins are the most widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs. They significantly lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in the body. And they’ve been shown to reduce death, heart attack and stroke risk by up to 30 percent in people at high risk.
Although statins were developed with the goal of lowering LDL cholesterol, they turn out to have at least one other major benefit. They quiet the inflammation that is inside plaques of atherosclerosis in arteries of the heart, brain and other organs. That inflammation-fighting effect also protects against heart attacks and strokes. That’s the reason that recent authoritative guidelines recommend that people with, or at risk for, atherosclerosis take statins – regardless of their cholesterol levels.
Muscle and joint aches typically go away gradually as your body adjusts to a statin. If not, switching to a lower dose, a different statin, or an every-other-day medication schedule should help.
Another option is to take an over-the-counter coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supplement along with your statin. CoQ10 replaces an enzyme depleted by statins. Advocates say it relieves and prevents muscle pain. These benefits have not been proven in rigorous studies, but the supplement is unlikely to hurt you. And it may allow you to continue taking your statin.
There’s another, far more serious, muscle-related side effect of statins that you may be concerned about. It’s called rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream.
Still, if you develop muscle aches with statin use, tell your doctor. A simple blood test can tell if your muscle is, in fact, breaking down. If not, your doctor will likely encourage you to remain on a statin because of its tremendous lifesaving potential.
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